Jenna’s hard labour

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - MILESTONES IN THE LIFE OF THE PRINCE OF WALES - El­iz­a­beth Day


The other day, Jenna Coleman gave birth for the sev­enth time. “I feel like my year has been maternity bras and preg­nancy bumps,” she says over a cup of tea in a café near her home in north Lon­don. “It’s be­com­ing a par­ody now.”

Be­fore you start to worry about the med­i­cal anom­aly that is Jenna’s uterus, rest as­sured it’s all been for the cam­eras. In real life, the 32-year-old is yet to have chil­dren.

“I don’t know if the time is now for me,” she says. On screen, how­ever,

she has been through a long phase of play­ing moth­ers.

She’s in the mid­dle of film­ing the third se­ries of Vic­to­ria, the hit TV drama scripted by Daisy Good­win in which Jenna plays the tit­u­lar queen, and “we’re up to the sev­enth child now, which is just ridicu­lous”. Vic­to­ria ul­ti­mately had nine so, she adds, “I’m not out of the woods yet.”

And then there’s the BBC psy­cho­log­i­cal drama The Cry, in which Jenna plays Joanna, a young mother in present-day Glas­gow, strug­gling to adapt to the de­mands of her new­born. Jenna had to pre­tend to give birth for that as well, scream­ing and grip­ping the side of the hospi­tal bed with bared teeth and a sweat-drenched face. It was very con­vinc­ing, I say. “Oh, was it?” she asks. “Good.”

In or­der to get into the zone be­fore film­ing a labour scene, Jenna lis­tens to mu­sic by Mum­ford & Sons. “There’s some­thing about the banjo,” she ex­plains. “I just try to get up a lot of adren­a­line and for some rea­son the banjo and the drums, I think, help.”

Has Jenna ever met her fel­low ac­tor, Carey Mul­li­gan, who is mar­ried to the band’s front­man, Mar­cus Mum­ford?

“No! Can you imag­ine if I did and said, ‘Your hus­band helps my labour scenes’?”

It turns out that giv­ing birth is only the start of the ac­tion in The Cry. The four-part se­ries, adapted from the epony­mous novel by Aus­tralian au­thor He­len FitzGer­ald, cen­tres on a tragedy that trig­gers Joanna’s psy­cho­log­i­cal un­rav­el­ling.

In chart­ing her men­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion, the drama seeks to ex­pose the myths and un­ac­knowl­edged truths of moth­er­hood. It’s a com­pelling watch, but in a piece so fo­cused on the com­plex­i­ties of be­ing a par­ent I won­der if Jenna has ever wor­ried about not hav­ing chil­dren her­self.

“Yeah. I spent a good first chunk of it just think­ing they’d com­pletely mis­cast – and why on earth me?” she replies.

“I’m not a mother! I re­ally kind of hit my­self over the head with it. I felt there was ob­vi­ously some­thing I wouldn’t be able to cap­ture. It was some­thing so... well, pri­mal that I haven’t lit­er­ally ex­pe­ri­enced. And I’ve re­ally strug­gled with that.”

She emailed all her friends who had ba­bies ask­ing for in­sight and re­ceived reams of in­for­ma­tion in re­turn, “just the kind of day-to-day re­al­i­ties of what it is be­ing a new mum.”

It made her won­der about the “loss of iden­tity” women face af­ter giv­ing birth and the way they are judged by so­ci­ety for want­ing to main­tain their own sense of self.

Jenna’s a thinker, and her con­ver­sa­tion of­ten drifts off into el­lip­sis as she tries to clar­ify a thought or an opin­ion. When she turns up, dressed in a long cardi­gan that seems to swamp her petite frame and pix­ieshaped face, she ap­pears ner­vous and ad­mits that this is her first in­ter­view for years.

“I’ve been away work­ing,” she says, wor­riedly, as if we might test her on the va­lid­ity of her ex­cuse. “There are so many pres­sures on women,” she con­tin­ues, “to feel that moth­er­hood is the most won­der­ful thing in the world and it is, ab­so­lutely – it’s pre­cious, it’s beau­ti­ful, but that re­ally doesn’t mean you can’t have th­ese other things in your life.

“And I think ev­ery­one needs to be a lit­tle bit more for­giv­ing of moth­ers who don’t feel guilty for want­ing a bit of in­de­pen­dence still... I think we all seem to have so many stan­dards on how it’s sup­posed to be and I think it’s toxic re­ally.”

In fact, Jenna has been think­ing a lot about women lately – not just moth­ers, but about how we all find our place in a world where gen­der dy­nam­ics have been shift­ing un­der our feet. The rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up move­ments in the wake of the scan­dal sur­round­ing dis­graced movie mogul Harvey We­in­stein, has been “amaz­ing... but I think the only way for that to re­ally have an im­pact is for those con­ver­sa­tions to keep hap­pen­ing, and those facts to keep on sur­fac­ing and just keep on go­ing with it... It’s def­i­nitely made me feel less apolo­getic for my­self.”

In what way did she feel she had to apol­o­gise? Jenna blinks slowly and tilts her face down.

“I think some­times over the past cou­ple of years, be­cause I’m young and fe­male, there was def­i­nitely a feel­ing like I per­haps didn’t have as

much right to an opin­ion.” I can see what she means. Jenna is in her 30s and has been work­ing solidly since the age of 18 when she got a part in the long-run­ning soap Em­merdale (her char­ac­ter ended up killing a po­lice­man with a chair leg and cur­rently re­sides in prison), be­fore be­ing cast as the as­sis­tant in Doc­tor Who next to Matt Smith − and later, Peter Ca­paldi − but she still looks younger than her years.

Her fea­tures are del­i­cate, her man­ner shy, her stature slight. With her brown eyes and hair, she re­sem­bles a pretty lit­tle wood­land crea­ture who is more com­fort­able build­ing a nest out of leaves and twigs than hav­ing to talk to some­one she’s just met. She comes across as an in­tro­vert who finds her­self in a world of ex­tro­ver­sion.

Jenna says that when she first took on the part of Vic­to­ria two years ago, “I felt re­ally young... I don’t think I’ve ever par­tic­u­larly been hugely aware of my height as such, or be­ing fe­male, un­til I was play­ing her. It’s that thing of power, I guess, and feel­ing like, ‘How do you play power? How do you project power? Do you just sit on a throne? What do you do?’”

She found the set to be an in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but be­cause she was play­ing a char­ac­ter who faced the same is­sues – namely, how to make her voice heard in a room­ful of older men − Jenna grad­u­ally learned how to “be brave enough” to say what she felt. In the end, Queen Vic­to­ria rubbed off on her.

“I def­i­nitely feel a lot more com­fort­able now. And I’d say a lot of that is prob­a­bly be­cause of Vic­to­ria, I think.”

She claims never to have ex­pe­ri­enced overt sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the in­dus­try, but when she went out to Los An­ge­les at the age of 21 for au­di­tions, “I was asked to turn up to an au­di­tion in a bikini and just said no. You know, there’s been silly things like that.”

How aware is Jenna of ask­ing for equal pay in her roles?

“It’s re­ally hard for me be­cause ob­vi­ously the last cou­ple of pro­jects I’ve been do­ing, I’ve been in a com­fort­able po­si­tion where

I’ve been able to be strong... But the thing is, no­body talks. No­body re­ally knows and I think that’s why so much time has gone on where things have been al­lowed to hap­pen.”

Still, it’s not a mas­sive stretch of the imag­i­na­tion to think that Jenna might, just might, have dis­cussed pay with Tom Hughes, the ac­tor who plays Prince Albert. The two of them, ru­moured to have met on set, have been dat­ing since 2016. If only you knew the guy who de­picts your hus­band on screen, I joke, then you could ask him how much he gets paid.

Jenna smiles and then blushes fu­ri­ously. “If only,” she says, look­ing away, and that’s about all I can glean about the sta­tus of their re­la­tion­ship.

“I feel like it’s a whole can of worms that’s po­ten­tially bet­ter not to open,” she ex­plains. But she’s happy? “Oh god, yes.”

The cou­ple re­cently moved house and Jenna is busy dec­o­rat­ing. “I’ve been get­ting into in­te­rior de­sign. I love the cre­ative as­pect. If you need to know any­thing about tiles or shades of white, I’m there.”

Her fa­ther, Keith, fits the in­te­ri­ors of bars and restau­rants for a liv­ing, so it clearly runs in the fam­ily. Her mother, Karen, “doesn’t work” and her brother Ben, older by three years, is a joiner. Jenna al­ways knew she wanted to act.

“I just used to con­stantly be play­ing and telling sto­ries. I started go­ing to the the­atre when I was re­ally young. It was al­ways there, I guess. The trick­ier thing was work­ing out how to turn it into a job. It was

never re­ally a ques­tion of...” she breaks off. “I just loved it. Re­ally en­joyed it.”

As a child, grow­ing up in Black­pool, she was “a bit of a tomboy”. “I was just chas­ing my brother around. He told me the gar­den was full of eat­ing­grass.” Did she eat the grass? “I did, yeah,” she grins.

At school, Jenna joined a the­atre com­pany and took plays to the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe. While she was ap­ply­ing for drama school, a lo­cal agency put her for­ward for an Em­merdale au­di­tion. It was, she says, “a fluke” that she ended up get­ting the part, but she did and, aged 18, moved to Leeds while all her friends were go­ing to univer­sity. “I was like, ‘Bye Mum!’” Jenna says now. “I was ready to go.”

Work­ing on Em­merdale taught her a lot be­cause “you work with a lot of dif­fer­ent ac­tors, a lot of dif­fer­ent directors... It was a great train­ing ground.

I just knew I didn’t want to stay there for­ever.”

She was also keen to not be type­cast as a north­ern, work­ing­class ac­tor, be­ing given roles in­volv­ing down­trod­den lives and ab­ducted chil­dren, which was why, shortly af­ter leav­ing Em­merdale in 2009, Jenna chose to star as the priv­i­leged daugh­ter of an in­dus­trial mag­nate in the BBC adap­ta­tion of John Braine’s 1957 novel, Room at the Top.

“I don’t re­ally en­joy play­ing my­self at all,” she says. “I love any­thing that feels more re­moved from my­self. I have a lot more free­dom... But us­ing my own voice and be­ing me, I feel self-con­scious. If peo­ple ask me to do a speech or some­thing, it’s like my worst night­mare. I can’t bear it.”

It must be strange, given her dis­like of draw­ing at­ten­tion to her­self off screen to find that she is now fa­mous. The & dou­ble-whammy of hav­ing starred in a long-run­ning cult clas­sic ( Doc­tor Who) and a prime­time cos­tume drama ( Vic­to­ria) means she is of­ten stopped in the streets.

“I can see if it’s a young boy, for ex­am­ple, I’ll know that’s Doc­tor Who. There’s a cer­tain de­mo­graphic,” she says.

The Vic­to­ria fans tend to be older and, “I did get one per­son who asked, ‘Can I have a selfie, Your Majesty?’ in John Lewis [depart­ment store] of all places!” I tell her that is quite pos­si­bly the most quintessen­tially mid­dle-class anec­dote I’ve ever heard. Jenna laughs, but then wor­ries it might sound as if she’s com­plain­ing. Her level of celebrity, she in­sists, does not make it feel as if her pri­vacy is in­truded upon. “I think if there’s ever a time I would feel that, it would be if some­body is knock­ing on your front door and in­vad­ing your space. But I mean, no, I don’t think I could sit and com­plain about it.”

She fin­ishes her tea and slips her hand­bag strap across her shoul­der. She has in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing to be get­ting on with and shades of white paint to pore over.

She may take some time off af­ter The Cry airs and she’s fin­ished film­ing Vic­to­ria. Over the past year, Jenna has worked so con­sis­tently that she’s spent a grand to­tal of 12 nights at home. She wants to fin­ish dec­o­rat­ing and go trav­el­ling.

“I’ve never been to In­dia or Mar­rakech,” she says. “I’d like to go some­where with colours – maybe Cuba. Pick my cam­era back up. Go and have a bit of Jenna life.” And, pre­sum­ably, take off the preg­nancy bump – at least for a while.

‘ I don’t re­ally en­joy play­ing my­self. I love any­thing that feels more re­moved from my­self. I have a lot more free­dom’

Jenna (in the role of Queen Vic­to­ria, right and be­low,with her part­ner Tom as Albert) be­lieves there’s a lotof pressure on moth­ers.

The petite ac­tress played the as­sis­tant to Peter Doc­tor in cult TV clas­sic Doc­tor Who. Jenna plays a strug­gling mother along­side co-star Ewen Les­lie in psy­cho­log­i­cal drama The Cry. Above: Her first act­ing job was on TV soap Em­merdale.

Jenna and Tom co-starred in Vic­to­ria (above). They’re a pri­vate pair, but she con­firms, em­phat­i­cally, that she’s happy.

TheCry screens Sun­days on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm.

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